Political InQueery: The Ass-Backwards Apologies of the Beltway

There's that old line: Whatever you don't know won't kill you. Unlike other idioms that make a modicum of sense, this is one that has been proven useless a gazillion times over. One example:

deepwater horizon oil rig on fire
But hey, let's back up a second and take a look at what's transpired, both with the reporting and reactions to the event in the last two months.

April was a bad month for fossil fuels, as a mine explosion in West Virginia took the lives of more than two dozen miners on the 6th. Just as the story was shifting to the corners Massey Energy had been cutting that could have impacted miner safety, our attention turned to the Gulf of Mexico.

On April 20 we first heard about the explosion on British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil rig. 11 to 15 workers were missing of the 126-member crew working on the structure. It also just happened to be the anniversary of the Columbine shootings and Hitler's birthday.

April 22, the oil rig was still on fire. After the 30 mile-long plume of smoke is finally snuffed out, the rig sank. Helicopters and other rescue vessels were still searching for the 11 missing workers. People at the scene noticed an oil slick forming at the oil rig site. Two remote-operated robots were dispatched to cap the leak, but were unsuccessful.

By April 24, BP realized that it was having serious problems containing the leak. A rear admiral of the Coast Guard stated to reporters that a damaged wellhead was leaking oil into the Gulf and said it was a very serious situation.

On April 26, rescue operations were halted, and the 11 men were given up on as lost. BP reported that at least two leaks below the surface were emitting about 1,000 barrels of crude oil a day. At this point the local fishing industry began to get publicly nervous about their upcoming summer seasons and the viability of fishing in tainted waters.

pelican caught in oil from BPWhen April 28 came, engineers began relaying the technical challenges of stopping the underwater leaks. The U.S. Coast Guard decided to set the oil slick on fire; it seemed to burn up the sky.

April 29, BP reported that the leak is spewing 5,000, not 1,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Sarah Palin gave her reaction on Twitter:

Having worked/lived thru Exxon oil spill,my family&I understand Gulf residents' fears.Our prayers r w/u.All industry efforts must b employed

Dang. That's a woman who knows how to get the most out of 140 characters.

Meanwhile, we also had some truly ludicrous conspiracy theory from Rush Limbaugh. On his radio program, he pondered openly if the initial fires were started by "environmental wackos," to commemorate Earth Day.

What better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig? I'm just noting the timing, here.

This is mildly hilarious given that Earth Day was on April 22, not April 20. Also, I can't think of any environmentalists who would protest environmentally problematic behavior like an oil rig with environmentally disastrous behavior, like lighting an oil rig on fire.

April 30, "The Katrina of Smell" hit New Orleans, and local officials noted it was the stench from the oil rig and oil leaks. Multiple news outlets ran stories about different ways to clean up the mess, like industrial dispersants and hair.

May 1, an independent source said the leak was chugging at a rate of 25,000 barrels a day, not 5,000 barrels a day. This is 25 times the initial estimate provided by BP.

On May 3, BP attempted to install a shut-off valve at the leak. This didn't work.  Once again Rush Limbaugh piped up on his radio show to say that no environmental clean up is necessary, that the ocean knows how to take care of these things. No rebuttal was discussed to point out that Rush doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. Meanwhile, BP finished the sixth attempt to use a robot to close the shut-off valve. All six attempts failed. Out in Texas, Govenor Rick Perry responded to a reporter's question about the oil disaster:

From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented.

So now cutting corners to shore up profits is an act of God. Just take note, everyone. There will be a test later.

May 4th's episode of The Daily Show includes a segment on the BP oil disaster in which they wonder why someone is out to get New Orleans.

May 5, the day that will forever be known as "Top Hat." BP's then-latest solution was to drop a concrete box on top of the leak to provide containment. It failed.

In the news of other awful ideas for fixing the mess, on May 10, AeroClay, a technology firm, announced it could try to use aerogel to soak up the oil like a sponge. But it could only try this in the future, for spills and leaks that haven't happened yet. Thanks for announcing that AeroClay. That's a big help.

May 12 rolled along and BP released a 30-second video of the leak itself. Independent experts viewing the footage declared that the leak was churning out 25,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil a day.

May 14–16: BP attempts and partially succeeds at siphoning off some of the oil from the leak; it's not much in comparison to what was still escaping. Whatever's been happening in the Gulf, however, isn't enough to convince everyone about the extent of the damage. On Fox News, Brit Hume scoffed:

There's a good question today if you are standing on the Gulf, and that is: Where is the oil?

Only Jesus can stand on water, Brit. Sheesh.

BP CEO Hayward on a boatMay 18 gave us the "if you spill it, he will come" development. Kevin Costner goes on record to talk about a centrifuge company he happens to own that could separate oil from water and clean up this whole darn mess. Kevin Costner, people.

On May 21, extremely recently triumphant in a primary guy Rand Paul opened his mouth to say something stupid:

What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP. I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I've heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it's part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it's always got to be someone's fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.

I think Rand sort of kind of forgot that a lot of people died in the coal mining and oil rig accidents. I'll just presume he forgot.

May 27 and BP announced it was finally ready to begin a "top kill" operation to plug the leak, after talking about it as an option for a while. After a few days, this plan was abandoned as a failure.

May 29 came and BP tried to clog the leaking pipe with "junk." This attempt failed. When workers who were trying to clean up the oil that was washing ashore became ill, BP's CEO, Tony Hayward, responded with some rather insensitive remarks.

I am sure they were genuinely ill, but whether it was anything to do with dispersants and oil, whether it was food poisoning or some other reason for them being ill, you know, there's a—food poisoning is surely a big issue when you've got a concentration of this number of people in temporary camps, temporary accommodations.

On June 2, several scientists say the leak could continue until Christmas. Happy New Year, everyone! Meanwhile, the CEO of BP was quoted as saying:

We're sorry for the massive disruption it's caused to their lives. There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I'd like my life back.

So would those 11 dead workers, I'm sure.

On June 3, Sarah Palin was back at it again, saying this disaster would never have happened if we'd been drilling in ANWR. Now that's just baiting. BP put a "cap containment system" in place and unfortunately, more oil began leaking out after this manuever than before.

June 8 broke the news that BP had bought several Web domains so that people's Google searches of the oil spill would find pages with their own content on the story. Talk about crafty! If only they'd put half that genius to work on uh, fixing the oil leaks.

On June 16, oil started flowing through a second containment system in order to capture the oil. This oil is then burned. Because BP's new motto is, "if you can't use it, burn it." In Washington DC, there was this from BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg:

I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care, but that is not the case with BP. We care about the small people.

They especially care about the small people with food poisioning from their temporary tent communities.

June 17, on Capitol Hill, Representative Joe Barton from Texas opened his mouth to say to Hayward:

"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House," Barton, 60, told Hayward at the hearing and later said, "I apologize" for it. "I do not want to live in a county where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, [it is] subject to some sort of political pressure that, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown."

Several other GOP lawmakers came out against this statement almost immediately. Can't have people defending the polluters, can we? Not even Republicans want to be allies on that score.

June 20, BP's CEO takes a ride on a yacht. Actually, he went on a race around an island. An island not made disgusting with his company's leaking oil. How nice for him. And in news of You Didn't Think It Could Get Any Worse, But It Did: There are reports that rather than spending the energy cleaning them up, BP is killing endangered turtles who have become contaminated with crude oil.

How does a company come back from this? I wonder how relieved Exxon and Halliburton are to be so far removed from the headlines. Even Blackwater must be pondering their expensive name change to Xe, if they're like, not going to be at the top of the assclown company list anymore. 

What I wonder about, meanwhile, is what else this oil slick is clouding up. The actual event? Our understanding of the long-term effects on people and the environment?  The White House agenda? Our national debate on energy policy? 

It may be a long time before we unpack all of this mess.






by Everett Maroon
View profile »

Everett Maroon is a memoirist, essayist, and fiction writer originally from New Jersey and now living in Walla Walla, Washington. His blog is transplantportation.com and he tweets at @EverettMaroon.

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

7 Comments Have Been Posted

don't forget...

Don't forget the oil spill in Salt Lake City on June 12th, courtesy of Chevron. Those 500 gallons hardly made headlines with the catastrophe in the gulf.

...a.k.a. best timing ever

...a.k.a. best timing ever for an oil spill. Good point!


I'm sorry - it was 500 barrels (over 21,000 gallons).

Tis true, but apparently

Tis true, but apparently that's less than one day's worth of this BP fiasco's leak.

This is a really helpful

This is a really helpful breakdown. Timelines = win.


I was listening to WNRP this morning on the way to work and they were discussing that apparently, one of the ingredients in Dove is petroleum. That doesn't make much sense to me.

One discussion that is missing from the news, i believe, is americans love affair with oil and being just so damn lazy. This isn't a White House thing, or a beltway thing...it's that Americans believe it's out god-given right to drive whatever car we want, use whatever harmful chemicals we want, eat red meat until it literally fucking kills us...because we can (Yes We Can!). I haven't heard many people talk about ways they are going reduce their dependency on oil. Maybe that's just because I haven't been involved or ease-dropped on those conversations. Hell...I'm not even sure how much oil is used to manufacture and run my car, appliances...I sure as hell didn't know that there was petroleum in dove!

I try to bike commute several days a week...I know I could do more...but it's ten miles away and it's been 90 degrees in Connecticut for the past week. Anyone doing anything creative to decrease their oil dependency? Cause I have to admit, I don't even really know where to start. The car/bike situation is always the first thing that comes to mind but I'm sure we could do more.

On the one hand, I utterly

On the one hand, I utterly agree with you. We take a lot for granted in These United States, even when our ignorance carries risks to our own bodies, like not knowing where our food comes from or what's really in that fast food burger. If we could see more alternatives for things, like forgoing all if not most processed foods, we could decrease the size of our individual footprints in the carbon credit swap sense.

But on the other hand, everytime I look into issues around food production, oil and gas and coal engineering, home appliance development, whatever, I keep coming back to large, multi-national conglomerates and a lack of regulation enforcement or an actual lack of regulations. If we look back quickly at a few headlines over the last few decades:

Enron's collapse
Home mortgage collapse
Credit market collapse
Health care costs skyrocketing leading to record rates of uninsured

All of these boil down to a few people—the executives—getting too greedy, finding tax and regulation loopholes, working in gray markets, and cooking the books. And then the rest of us have paid in taxpayer-funded bailouts, or by losing our pensions, or by having to pay out of pocket for health care, when most other industrialized countries see as that as a human right, not a privilege.

We have 13 slaughterhouses in the US packaging some unbelievable percentage of the meat in our food supply, upwards of 85 percent (I can look up the source if anyone's interested). When one of those slaughterhouses gets contaminated, millions and millions of people are affected. We have only a few oil and petroleum companies mining the world for those fossil fuels, so it's not surprising to me that they're as unaccountable as they are. The neocons who so vociferously scream about free markets never seem to mention that we're really not operating in one. Five major US airlines does not a free market make.

I think the problem is that we've merged within all of these industries too many times. Each company's wins go to a very, very few people, and each loss gets handed to the rest of us to deal with. Americans may in fact like their big cars, but I think this recession showed that we're just as eager to buy hybrids and SmartCars. I'm still an idealist in that I honestly believe that people are essentially good, although we may be broken enough that we do some wicked shit to other people. For me, I have faith that if we have viable alternatives that can offer us the convenience we want and make us feel good that we're doing our part, we'll take them. But at the end of the day, those exhausted parents just trying to get to tomorrow will opt for the cheaper or more convenient option.

There's a limitation to the "going green" movement, in that it puts the responsibility of stopping global warming on all of us, when we didn't really create this situation. Individually, sure, our choices mark us as invested in solutions or not, but I get skeptical of the push to make this any everything else about individual responsibility. At least until I see some of the extremely big producers for our products and energy taking some of their own. Don't tell me in 1999 that I need to be a good consumer to keep the economy going, and then rebuke me in 2010 for having too much shit. It doesn't add up to me.

Add new comment